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Even with the recent snowfall, eateries are pleased that more customers can dine inside.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Tina Hall, the owner of Ichabod's Restaurant in Scappoose, is welcoming more inside dining.Restaurants in Columbia County received a taste of good and not-so-good news last week.

On the plus side, Columbia County was one of several counties moving from "extreme" to "high" risk as COVID-19 metrics improved ever so slightly.

On the minus side, Columbia County was pounded late in the week with an extraordinary late winter snowstorm.

Add these two factors together, and it's been an interesting past several days for restaurants in St. Helens, Scappoose and beyond.

Under the new "high risk" designation, restaurants in Columbia County will be allowed indoor dining at up to 25% capacity or a 50-person limit, whichever is smaller. This designation applies to several counties, including neighboring Washington and Multnomah counties.

Coping with all of this is Tina Hall, who owns Ichabod's in Scappoose. She said the new designation will help her business.

"It will definitely help," Hall said. "The takeout business has been good, but it does not cover all the bills. Now that we're back open, we'll start building business again — and there's hope, because we can survive if we have tables."

For restaurants such as Ichabod's, it can take time to turn business around.

"It's much better to be open, and it takes a while to build business again, anyway," Hall said. "We're super-positive about rebuilding business and continuing forward from here."

Asked if the new restaurant occupancy requirements will help Ichabod's, Hall said, "We normally can seat 80, but we can have 20 people in here, and usually, most tables don't have more than a couple in here. So it's just a good place to start. The more, the better, but we'll take that for starters."

Hall acknowledged that Ichabod's first weekend of 2021 with indoor seating allowed was "slower than it would be" if it hadn't snowed so much. But that is a temporary setback.

As long as Ichabod's can stay open, and people get their vaccinations, Hall said, "I think we're going to be OK."

At Warren Country Inn, general manager Roni Bartlett has experienced the roller coaster ride that the COVID pandemic brings.

Bartlett is looking forward to having more people allowed in her restaurant.

"I think having people in the store always helps," Bartlett said. "Being able to do both delivery, takeout and seating does actually help the bottom line."

Bartlett was asked if she feels optimistic about restaurants in view of the COVID-19 metrics that are updated.

"No," Bartlett said, bluntly. "The reason for that is because everything is purely based on a metric. That means we can be shut down. There are already counties where they've been opened and closed. The issue for a lot of restaurants is the longer we're closed, the more our staff starts to find other jobs.

"As soon as we open back up again, we're scrambling on the staff side," she added. "So then we can't give the level of service that people are used to."

This year, Valentine's Day fell on a day when people were probably more interested in shoveling the snow off the driveway than enjoying a romantic dinner. But the day of love actually turned out all right for Bartlett and her crew.

"We definitely were able to make things work," Bartlett said. "We had the most amount of foot traffic that we've had in a really long time. It wasn't overly busy, because we just didn't have the seating capacity available because of the mandate."

Even with the increased traffic at her restaurant on Valentine's Day, Bartlett says that when it comes to COVID-19 and dining, "The crystal ball is super-foggy." Like other restaurant-owners throughout Columbia County and beyond, she is just hoping the positive trends continue.


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